Jaguar Sun: A Bright New Bar in Downtown Miami
Downtown Miami is making a comeback, especially when it comes to cool spots to stop in and grab a drink. Earlier this year we saw the opening of places like Mama Tried and Lost Boy Dry Goods. Now there’s a newcomer to the scene, and dare we say — it’s our favorite. If you haven’t made it to Jaguar Sun yet, then you need to add it to your plans immediately.
The concept comes to Miami from two very non-Miamians (however, Will’s closet looks like he’s lived here his entire life) whose resumes speak volumes, but their love and passion for what they do speaks even more.
Will Thompson is a cocktail wizard who Food & Wine named one of the country’s best new mixologists and after one drink it’s easy to see why. Carey Hynes has worked along side some of the top chefs in the country including Daniel Rose and David Chang. He’s perfected the art of elevated simplicity, making the food at this cozy bar some of the best around.
The cocktails are refreshing and fairly tropical, with a large focus on rums and agave spirits. A favorite is the Very Strong Baby, a combination of agricole rum, strawberry, Campari, dry vermouth and curacao, or the Young Astronaut with tequila, tropical fruit, green tea and Peruvian pepper. There’s also really fun large format drinks that are great for a crowd and a wonderful wine list — don’t slack on the champagnes — Will loves his bubbles and knows how to pick them!
The food is some of the best that you’ll find at a bar. Start every visit with the Parker House rolls and beef drippings. But the real star of the menu is the pasta, that’s made fresh in-house. The cacio e pepe with Parmesan and cracked Tellicherry pepper is $6 during happy hour and quite the steal. And the rigatoni with a pork sugo sauce and Calabrian and Thai chilis has a kick and is pure perfection.
Will says, “If you’re here for the drinks and the food surprises you that’s awesome, and if you’re here for the food and the drinks surprise you, we love it. It just means we’re doing exactly what we set out to do.”
I sat down with the duo who are serving some of my favorite drinks and dishes in town to chat with them about their background, favorite ingredients, and their go to meals.
Here’s what they had to say:
Tell us a bit about your background:
Carey: I started cooking early, I kinda worked in dodgy bars in college to make money and to drink for free. I graduated in 2009 and had a hard time finding a job, so I started cooking again and taking it a bit more seriously. I ended up going to Paris and cooking with a guy named Daniel Rose, who opened Spring and Table 28 — I found that job on Craigslist — it was a really joy working with him. He’s back in New York now and opened Le CouCou which is just amazing. But at the time, it was just me and him in a 30 square foot kitchen making roast chicken which was delightful. Then I ended up working at L’Astrance which is another small three Michelin starred restaurant in Paris. I was also bartending at Prescription Cocktail Club and Curio Parlor on weekends. After a year and a half I moved to New York and worked at Per Se and then went to Momofuku Ko for three years as a line cook and then a sous chef and helped move it to its new location. From there, I was chef de cuisine at Momofuku Nishi which is the slightly confusing Asian pasta concept. Most recently I was in Napa at Charter Oak. It was a gorgeous space and lots of more casual woodfire cooking and tons of vegetables.
I feel tremendously lucky to have worked for and with the people I did at times I worked with them. I learned so much and it’s all dictated a lot of how I look at food. I’ve got a really wide pantry — I’ve learned how to use fish sauce in sneaky ways to add depth.
Will: I always worked in cafes and ice cream shops through high school and college. I definitely knew I was interested in bartending as early as high school. After a few serving jobs, I ended up lying my way into my first bartending job which was at a very terrible hookah lounge outside of Boston. I got to work with this really old school super intense bartender who I learned a lot from, but after a while felt I couldn’t grow much there. So I took a barbacking job at Drink after applying 3 or 4 times and that’s the only thing they were hiring for. I started on the bar’s first anniversary and worked through the 5th anniversary. I had maybe six different titles while I was there and learned some really incredible things from some extremely talented people, many of whom have done on to do amazing things. So grateful for them!
After that I did some traveling and came back and was sure I knew everything in the world — then I got some advice that if I wanted to own my own place, I should get some practice opening bars on someone else’s dime first, which made a ton of sense. So I did just that. I think at one point I was working at six different place at once — which was too too many. But it was everything from really high volume, low impact to fancy dining. Then I did a lot of consulting and openings. Many of them are still doing really well, and that makes me so happy. I did a bunch of opening bar managing jobs where I created the starting menu, concept, train the staff and then handed it off to whoever was really going to run the bar.
Then I got a chance to work for Campari as the Brand Ambassador for Grand Marnier, where I got to spend a year traveling the world and checking out tons of bars and restaurants. Through this travel I kept noticing that every time I would come to Miami I would extend my stay and really liked it here. So when this opportunity came up, it was like cool — let’s do this.
What's your favorite thing about being behind the bar / in the kitchen?
Carey: I think when you’re busy and service just gets boiled down to doing what you have to do and you can kinda get out of your head a little bit and time goes by quickly — that’s a feeling that I like a lot. I like making food, making nice food, selling it, and then cleaning the kitchen. I love tasting a bite of pasta and being like, “yep, that’s right.” I love the way the peppercorn smells when it’s toasting for the bucatini. Buffing out the stainless steel at the end of the night is super satisfying too.
Will: I haven’t gotten to do it in a really long time and I’m really excited to be back there again. I love that moment when you find that one thing for that one person. And once in a while, that’s a beverage. There’s a lot of opportunity to make a screaming cold daiquiri or a super refreshing Tom Collins for someone and have that be the little moment for them. But more than that it’s the way you get to interact with someone from behind the bar, pouring that splash of wine or whatever it is that you feel the moment when you have someone on the hook and enjoying the experience. It’s your job as a bartender to know when to joke or be serious, or to know a cool way to make a variation on someone’s favorite drink. There’s so infinite opportunity to learn about people.
What have you noticed so far that makes Miami different from other places you've lived and worked?
Carey: People are scared of spicy! I hate saying it, but we’ve definitely noticed that. Cooking at Momofuku, there’s obviously a lot of spice. We are working on figuring out the right amount of spice in the rigatoni. (editor's note: this writer thinks it’s the perfect amount of spice)
Will: You know, everyone wants to tell you the Miami palette is sweet, but overall I haven’t seen that yet so I don’t believe that. People respond really well when you’re nice to them I’ve noticed. So we’re focusing on that — not like white tablecloth style but just knowing how to open a proper bottle of wine. Also, there’s a lot of raw talent in Miami that’s looking to come up in the bar scene and they are hungry for it, which is a stark contrast to some of the cities I’ve worked in.
If you had to use one ingredient in every dish / cocktail forever what would it be?
What's your go to or ideal meal and drink pairing?
Carey: I’m a big fan of a good rum old fashioned and country ham. It’s just that simple, that’s all I need. And we have both of them here!
Will: A glass of red Burgundy and small chicken dish. Like a fancy ass burgundy and some French peasant food. Or a martini and oysters. I really think people need to drink more gin!
Jaguar Sun in X Miami
230 NE 4th St
Miami, FL 33132